Military children learn football from NFL receiver Roberts

(photo by David B. Hollingsworth the Virginian-Pilot)

(photo by David B. Hollingsworth the Virginian-Pilot)

By Matt McKinney
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 8, 2015

VIRGINIA BEACH
Nicholas Burd dreams of making big plays, dodging would-be tacklers and spending Sunday afternoons on the field with NFL players. So, naturally, it was a big weekend for the square-shouldered 14-year-old: He got to do all the above. Nicholas and about 135 other military children hit the gridiron Saturday and Sunday for a football camp with Washington Redskins receiver Andre Roberts.

The free camp, held at Oceana Naval Air Station, focused on football fundamentals and the importance of staying active. “Just to be on the same field as him is really special,” Nicholas, a Dallas Cowboys fan, said Sunday during a break from the action.

Roberts, a sixth-year pro out of The Citadel, grew up in an Army household and said he feels strong ties to military families. “That’s why I do this. I used to be in their position,” he said, recalling moving around the country and playing on sports fields at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. Roberts said he attributes his success on the field to values he learned being around the military. “It showed me how to be strong and determined and work hard in everything I do,” he said.

Roberts joined the Redskins in 2014, finishing the season with 36 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns.

On Sunday, campers ranging from first- to eighth-graders sprinted across the glistening turf, working on their passing, catching and footwork. Near the west end of the field, 7-year-old Gabriella Seda, an aspiring wide receiver, zipped back and forth, chasing after a fellow group member with the ball. Her favorite part of the camp: “Being outside,” she said.

That kind of response thrills Jeff Lowe, youth sports and fitness coordinator at the base. He said getting kids outside has been among his top priorities in 16 years on the job. And by that measure, the camp was a “huge success.” “It’s priceless,” he said. “They’re having a good time, learning teamwork and being active. It’s great.” Parents lined a nearby fence and sat in bleachers, watching their children learn the finer points of America’s favorite sport.

About halfway through the day, campers got to ask Roberts about his career, including which cornerback he would most like to “dust.” (Answer: Patrick Peterson, a former teammate with the Arizona Cardinals.)
“Why is football so special?” one youngster asked sheepishly. Roberts paused for a few seconds, then nodded. “Football’s the ultimate team sport. You can’t do it without 11 people on the field…. And that’s why I love it.”

Nicholas, who will start high school football in the fall, said he loves the sport because it offers an outlet for when his mother, an aviation ordnanceman, goes overseas. He’s seen her ship out to places like Cuba, Italy and Guam. And when she’s stationed elsewhere, he plays with her on his mind. “It’s about making the people you love proud,” he said, “especially when they can’t be there.”

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